Some say that all good war movies are antiwar movies. That isn't to say they're only good for having a negative view on the matter but rather to say it's impossible to make war look favorable. This isn't exactly true. Otherwise we wouldn't have had so many effective propaganda films during World War II. Even those that really showed the hell of the fight and the reality of the death and destruction, most of them documentaries (notably With the Marines at Tarawa), managed to promote the need to keep going until we won. Historically, I think those are some of the most necessary war movies there are.
But there is of course also a necessity for the movies that are unquestionably antiwar, whether its satire like Dr. Strangelove and Catch-22 or pretty much any serious drama involving Vietnam (and World War II maybe) for the past four decades, especially Apocalypse Now and Full Metal Jacket. It's hard to think of movies that have been positive gung-ho depictions of real wars, minus maybe some ancient conflicts, though we have had plenty of seemingly pro-war movies about fake ones, whether speculative about realistic threats or something of the alien invasion variety. Even then, though, you've got your satires (Starship Troopers) and other antiwar stories (Ender's Game).
Today being Veterans Day, it's important to note that a lot of respectful dramas have been produced over the years, those films that may subscribe to the general antiwar sentiment yet still honor those who did fight and risked or lost their lives for what they believed in as far as defending freedom and democracy and the people of the United States. Saving Private Ryan is a probably the most popular example of a memorial tribute that never really gets too into the flag-waving jingoism of the old-school patriotic movies.
While drama can have its results in emotionally moving audiences for or against war, I think documentaries are the most necessary today, and I don't say that just because I'm a doc guy. And the fact that a whole bunch of them went ignored over the past decade made me think they were even more crucial. Whether they were those embedded in conflict, like Restrepo, or more historical pieces like Eugene Jarecki's Why We Fight (not to be confused with the old WWII propaganda series) and Errol Morris's The Fog of War. The latter is probably the most indispensible in an analytical sense.
But I can't deny the two short docs that have imprinted such devasting images into my brain that I could never accept war as anything but man at his worst yet also as something that has been necessary in extreme circumstances: Hiroshima-Nagasaki, August 1945 and Night and Fog.
What one movie about war do you think everyone should see?
Here are some responses received so far via Twitter:
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